“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” – Pablo Picasso
When I started working for the news I suffered one big problem in Metro Manila–mobility. It’s not like other jobs and businesses don’t suffer the same sort of traffic aggravation but news is not like any of my other video production appointments where I simply allot buffer time for part-of-life traffic jams. News, especially when it’s about breaking stories, is a 24-hour, on-the-go kind of job where every second of travel time counts.
So after a few missed breaking stories, I scouted for a bike. I just fell in love with the classic, European-standard, Taiwan-made 125cc automatic-transmission scooter Kymco Like 125 LX. I call her Salma for two reasons: First, looking at her some degrees from the back, she looks like the golden green Maybug we locally call Salaginto–short for Salagubang (Maybug) and ginto (golden). Salaginto + Mayo (May)–Salma. Secondly, she’s just plain beautiful.
Man, I just love riding Salma. Barely 4 months as my workhorse, she has ran 5,000 kilometers for me already. Aside from the regular city cruise to cover rallies and big news in the capital, we’ve been to Olongapo City to cover an international case, to the Naval station in San Antonio, Zambalez and Crow Valley in Tarlac for the PH-US military drills, business trips in La Paz and Victoria, Tarlac and of course, chasing typhoon Noul (Dodong) in Aurora.
What can I say about this cool bike? Well, with an all-stock setup, she runs 100-115km/hr at full-throttle and covers around 34 kilometers per liter. Not bad at all! Some friends of mine go 130kms/hr with a few aftermarket modifications. And with a 6-liter gas tank, countryside ride is worry-free. By the way, Kymco shows it on their website and brochures as 8-liter capacity. That’s wicked advertising. I emailed Kymco for that because I really wanted that 8 liters but they didn’t bother to reply.
Anyway, there’s a lot of good feedback in the riding community for this scooter. It’s a tested machine for endurance races. I can only speak of my recent ride to Baler and Casiguran, Aurora chasing the typhoon. It was a 32-hr, 700-km on-the-job loop for me and here are my notes:
– With its body volume and weight, it handles gusts on exposed areas and wind tunnels like bridges between mountains and seasides quite well.
– I changed the stock top box with a bigger SEC brand to fit my camera rig and stuff. A large top-box will also save the scooter’s body from road impacts and probably your legs from injury on accidental slides.
– I love the flooring as it holds my tripod and extra baggage.
– When I got back to Manila I bought and installed a JM windshield from Big V in Paranaque City for a more comfortable night ride as I think it’s the most arduous part of my journey.
With the windshield, I can now go with my helmet glass open to avoid headlight flares without worrying about insects hitting my eyes at night and direct hit from cold wind and rain. It looks so much better, too.
– I think the handle bars are too narrow or too light or both for its body mass and added top box load so I might install an extender/stabilizer that Big V Motoparts was offering me.
– The engine is considerably big and powerful for a scooter. Maybe that’s why my friends from Like Owners Society (LOS) have been in-love with her for years now. My only complaint is how it seems to respond and sound like it is on second gear (if I’m using a manual transmission) on take-offs. And that’s exactly how she handled steep ascents. I know the engine can handle them. It sounded like it but it just would not go up like it’s supposed to. I felt like I wanted to shift to lower gear but I couldn’t because it’s automatic. There’s is also this annoying intermittent vibration on slow take-off-idle cruise particularly in traffic jams. The vibration was really strong for a couple of days right after my Aurora ride. They say it’s the stock clutch bell. A friend lead mechanic recommends a few and simple not-so-expensive mods to fix these problems.
Helmet = Life
– The Kenda stock tires I don’t trust for my kind of ride. First, my rear momentarily slipped when I hit a thin strip of water crossing a paved downhill curve in Olongapo City on my first long ride about two months ago. In Aurora, I suffered minor injuries when I got to a concrete descent covered with a thin layer of red mud that went down with the rain.
The tires just won’t hold however I tried. They are relatively good for dry pavement but not wet and slippery surfaces based on my experience. It is also clearly not designed for muddy, unsurfaced roads and mountain treks. It took me a great deal of concentration riding back that 100km Baler-Casiguran Road right after the heavy rain even with day light. And once you see sand on a surfaced curve, you’d be better off walking your bike with those tires. I know and it still hurts. Friends in LOS recommend Swallow and Pirelli. The Pirelli tire SL 60 Enduro-type pattern seems to be perfect for my kind of ride but it is expensive and the aspect ratio is a bit bigger so I think I would have to make adjustments on my mud guards to make it fit should I decide to buy it. I can’t find any cheaper tire with similar pattern and review. Swallow is more affordable and recommended but it doesn’t seem to have the enduro-type pattern that I’m looking for.
Note: When you smell the sea especially at night, when visibility is poor, slow down and be careful with the curves. There is a good chance that sea sand has reached some parts of the road.
I had a good rest with the army rescue team in Casiguran. I chose a wooden plank which also supported the rescue boat’s engine. On my second night, the local government of Aurora let me stay for a night in their cozy guest house at the Provincial Capitol grounds in Baler with a group of jolly medical missionaries and humanitarian advocates from the International Police Commission. On my way back to Manila, I had to nap on top of Salma in a gasoline station somewhere in San Luis, Pampanga. I was so tired when I woke up, my top box was wet, probably from a drizzle.
Goto in Baler was awesome, I had a repeat when I came back down from Casiguran. Also, the LGU and disaster management group in Casiguran had a great cook. Native chicken adobo and sopas for the stormy day was really homey.
The best part of this journey was the view during relief operations and on my afternoon travel back. Rice fields and meadows with mountains as backdrop were jaw-dropping. It was green everywhere. Trees in these parts are protected and illegal logging is a huge violation.
Casiguran was a 16-hour ride from Manila with a somewhat 70% unsurfaced and mountainous Baler-Casiguran Road but Salma never had a breakdown. I probably made the right choice. Anyhow, Kymco was a Honda partner and now a BMW and Kawasaki parts supplier, as I have read.
A bridge is not just a bridge. It breathes in gusts. It has skin that smells of asphalt, of oil and earth. It is warm when it rains and it moves to warn you not to overstay.
A seashore is an enchanting landscape but at pitch-black night, it is nagging and fishy.
A mountain at a distance is too inviting to resist but up close she is cold, she cries and she bleeds.
The only way to really see nature’s true beauty and experience its understated peculiarities is by embracing discomfort.